BOSTON — Some Christians may be pulling back from politics, but evangelical activism is very much alive in the US - in the form of prayer.
Mission America, a coalition of 70 denominations and 200 parachurch groups, has an ambitious goal: "to pray for and share Christ with every man, woman, and child in America by the end of the year 2000."
The strategy is the Lighthouse - believers gathering in homes, churches, or at work to pray regularly, by name, for their neighbors. Mission America, the US arm of the AD 2000 and Beyond Movement (see story above), hopes to set up 3 million Lighthouses, which "would give full coverage of our nation if each one were to reach five dwellings to the left, five to the right, and 10 across the street," says Dave Gibson, executive director.
Those who start a Lighthouse in their homes are encouraged to "Pray, Care, and Share," in that order: to pray with knowledge about neighbors, and perhaps ask if there are needs they should pray about; to look for opportunities to care, to build relationships; and, finally, to seek opportunities to "share Jesus."
"It's not about shoving the Gospel down their throats," explains Evelyn Christenson, who co-chairs the North American Women's Prayer Track for AD 2000, "but earning the right to speak to them about Jesus."
Alvin Vander Griend, director of Houses of Prayer Everywhere, says people today are more amenable to having others pray for them than 25 years ago, though there are exceptions. His organization and a few others have been working in recent years to put a house of prayer on each street. They picked up the idea, he says, from Argentina, India, and Korea. "The whole concept of evangelistic prayer cells is attracting God's blessing on a world basis." His group provides training, resources, and ongoing support to those involved. Now Mission America has chosen the idea as its national strategy.
The prayer movement in the US has taken many forms. Mrs. Christenson, who also heads United Prayer Ministry, says it started in the early '70s with groups run largely by women. The National Prayer Committee was founded in 1979 and sponsors united prayer initiatives.
About 10 years ago, the "prayer summit" movement began, says Dr. Vander Griend, when a group in the Pacific Northwest brought pastors from whole cities or regions together in four-day retreats simply to pray - no outside speakers or agenda. "These became life-changing experiences," he says. There are now about 800 pastor groups around the country meeting regularly to pray for their cities.
Jonathan Graf, editor of Pray! magazine, says these groups have an impact on cities and foster evangelical unity. In New York City, he says, some 800 churches join in a coalition called Concerts of Prayer Greater New York. Among other endeavors, they participate in "The Lord's Watch," a prayer calendar by which they pray together for specific things in the city on given days. Graf believes "the unified praying against crime" has much to do with the significant drop in city crime.
He points, too, to the prayer clubs developing in high schools. "We anticipate that most high schools and junior highs will have student-led prayer groups in the next couple of years. Probably half of them do now."
Many deeply involved in the prayer movement say the results aren't yet as encouraging in the US as elsewhere in the world.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society